N.Y. should join the 43 states that force clergy to report child abuse
(December 8, 2006) — A 3-month-old girl drowns in a bucket of hermother's vomit in Manhattan. Parents burn a 4-year-old girl's eyes withbleach and body with cigarettes in Schenectady. A 45-year-old sexuallyabuses a 4-year-old in a day care center bathroom in Penfield.
Child abuse: It's heart-rending, repulsive and increasinglycommon in New York. We recoil at such atrocities, and yet, legally andpractically, we consistently fail to intervene. The disconnect occursat the point of reporting. Ethically, all citizens ought to reportsuspected abuse, but legally only specific professions, "mandatedreporters," are liable. Unfortunately, in defining mandated reporters,New York has neglected a particularly pivotal group of people.
Suppose for a moment that one of the above perpetrators,burdened with remorse, seeks release through confessing his wrongs to aclergyman. What happens next?
In New York, the appalling answer is nothing. The perpetrator,absolved of his guilt, may carry on with his life undetected. In anyone of 25 other states, said clergyman would be explicitly required bylaw to submit suspected child abuse for investigation, and would belegally liable for failing to do so.
Physicians, school officials, social workers, therapists andpolice officers are among the more obvious mandated reporters in NewYork. From there, categories become more and more bizarre, includingsuch professions as podiatrists, interns and even Christian Sciencepractitioners. What podiatrist sees more cases of suspected abuse thana clergyman?
Some may argue that defining clergymen as mandated reportersviolates religious right to privacy. Following that vein, then,requiring physicians to report violates medical privacy, as doesplacing such requirements on therapists. It's a slippery slope, myfriends.
Including the clergy as mandated reporters may not be able toresuscitate the infant who drowned in her own mother's vomit, butchanging statutes precipitates changed mindsets, which in turn and overtime produce lasting behavioral change. Bingo. That's our goal. Whenlaws recognize specific cohorts' distinct ethical responsibility toreport suspected child abuse, the general public follows suit.
In addition to the 25 states citing members of the clergy amongthose professionals specifically mandated to report, 18 states treatall residents, including clergy, as mandated reporters. This leaves NewYork in the vast minority as one of only seven states failing torequire clergymen to report suspected child abuse or neglect.
Within the past six months, Gov. Pataki has allocated more than$3 million to expand and improve child care facilities, indicating NewYork's current focus on bettering child welfare across the state. Thisis the time for action! New York must recognize its extreme oversightin failing to include clergymen, who by nature are privileged topotentially critical information, as mandated reporters. Now, whilechild welfare is on the state agenda, let's join with the rest of thenation to keep clergymen accountable.
Fair is a social work major at George Mason University. She is from Chili. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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